Mixing patterns requires a delicate balance of just enough of the right ingredients. Too little pattern and your room is YAWN inducing, too much or clashing pattern and your room is chaotic and demanding like an enthusiastic toddler yelling LOOK AT ME over and over!
I will be the first to admit that rules were made to be broken and everyones level of tolerance for pattern is different. The design duo from Madcap Cottage are the kings of pattern - they push the boundaries of pattern mixing to the very edges, but they are masterful at it. In the room pictured below, I count at least 12 different patterns and all of them are attention hounds! It’s more than I personally could live with, but I admire the exuberance, and it certainly will never be accused of being boring!
Pattern shows up in a variety of places in interiors, the most common being fabrics, rugs, and wallcoverings. There are a few key ingredients to getting the Goldilocks “just right” formula for mixing pattern in a room. There are many ways to approach it, but here is one way I find to be foolproof:
Start with one pattern –
whatever catches your eye as a favorite for whatever reason. The supporting cast of characters should offer a variety of scale, texture, and pattern type and contain at least some of the colors that appear in the main pattern. Not every fabric can or should be a showstopper – some have to play secondary characters. I’ll use the fabrics selected for a recent living room project to demonstrate what I mean.
Here are the major categories of patterns
This category is often the showstopper and includes scenic, florals, vines, trees, animals, etc.
In this room it was this embroidered jacquard that I fell in love with for the clients color scheme of blue and cream. We needed some golden beiges and browns to tie in some existing fixed elements like the marble firebox surround and the stone counters in the adjacent kitchen and this gorgeous fabric ticked all the boxes.
This medium-large scale floral would update a small French chair – the unexpected scale giving it a more contemporary, graphic feel.
All the remaining fabric and textile colors where chosen around that fabric.
While it is tricky to use two floral patterns in a similar scale in the same room, it can be done if executed carefully. In this case it works for two reasons: 1.) It is a different pattern and a different texture but contains the same colors, and 2.). It is used in the farthest points away from the signature floral we started with, so that the florals are spread around the room creating a pleasing rhythm. This second floral appears in a sofa pillow and again on the chair seats in the adjacent kitchen. Had we used it for draperies behind the French chair, the effect would have been busy, competing patterns.
This includes all nonrepresentational random patterns
The rug we chose is a large scale contemporary abstract pattern with a variety of shades of blue and tan. A smaller abstract pattern adorned the existing club chair in shades of blue-grey and aqua-blue. Abstract patterns mix well with most other patterns. The key to using more than one in a space is a distinct difference in scale.
This encompasses plaids, checks, diamond and trellis patterns, and any other repeating geometric shapes
The sectional sofa is the largest piece in the room, and as such was covered in a neutral medium scale geometric in a light taupe and cream – these colors are so close in value that is behaves more like a texture than a pattern. Geometrics are an important addition giving some symmetry and structure to balance the more free flowing floral or abstract patterns.
The draperies are an embroidered linen in a contemporary geometric squares pattern with a base color of spa blue topped with embroidered squares of various neutrals from blue gray to taupe echoing all the colors in the club chair.
And finally the all-important throw pillows in an exquisite cut velvet geometric that feels as sumptuous as it looks!
If stripes had a subtitle it would be “plays well with others”
Next to solids, stripes are the easiest pattern to use as they mix well with ANY other pattern. We added a small scale multicolored chenille stripe in sofa pillows in this room. The texture works well with the cut velvet pillows as well as the geometric sofa fabric. If mixing more than one stripe in a space, vary the scale.
That goes for pretty much every type of pattern, although we successfully broke this “rule” with our two florals in this space!
This can include tone on tone small scale textures as well as solid color painted walls and ceilings
Every room needs some solids to give the eye a place to rest. But don’t cop out and use ALL solids in a room – this just makes for either jarring blocks of color with a kindergarten vibe, or a yawn inducing room if all the colors are neutrals. Use some patterns and textures and then add solids that complement the colors in the patterns. In this room the sofa has some solid blue linen pillows that ground the patterned throw pillows. But the painted walls are also a large expanse of solid as the room soars to an 18 ft ceiling height. While we broke up the height with mouldings and added some large scale artwork, there is still plenty of solid color.
While our room does not contain any animal prints (at least not yet…), they are a wonderful addition to any pattern mix and as long as the scale is good in relation to the other patterns, they, like stripes and solids, are always welcome.
Foolproof formula for mixing patterns
Large scale floral/organic signature textile + medium scale geometric + small scale stripe + solid/texture + animal print = a terrific pattern mix!
Here is a brief peek at our example room on installation day - stay tuned for project photos!
Here are a few curated pattern mixes (click on caption for links):
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